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24 Nov 2006 10:37
Blood Mountain (Gallo)
To begin with I have to qualify this review. It has been almost 10 years since I heard a metal album that I fell in love with; I honestly thought my head-banging days were remnants of my distant past.
Then along came Mastodon from Atlanta, Georgia, and blew the whole thing wide open.
Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher obviously have a deep love for prog rock, as one can tell by their complex guitar riffs, bizarre time signatures and long, melodic instrumental interludes. I am not even going to bother singling out individual songs on this album, because the whole thing is just so damn good. Mastodon have taken metal to a new high, and the guest appearances of Queen of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Cedric Bixler-Zavala from the Mars Volta are just icing on the cake.—Lloyd Gedye
A Matter of Life and Death (EMI)
Raise your skinless fists in the air for Iron Maiden’s 14th studio album, A Matter of Life and Death. Not that I expect anything less from this band, but this captivating album is an exquisite collection of songs, recorded in only two months. Produced by regular collaborator Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, The Black Crowes), the album is dark and sombre and possesses a slower tempo than previous albums. While the mammoth power of the guitar riffs and drums are bigger than life, overall the solemn motif is undeniably death (These Colours Don’t Run and Brighter Than a Thousand Suns). The only glitch on the album is that it sounds like lead singer Bruce Dickinson is wrestling with the intensity of the instruments. But this is a Maiden CD to the core and a fine piece of rock for anyone’s collection.—Hila Bouzaglou
Even Though You Smile (Authentic Ideas)
The only thing that spoils young Jozi band Unlisted’s debut album, Even Though You Smile, is the immaturity of lead singer Jared Carneson’s voice. Just as you’ve started headbanging to a grunge-enriched intro, you’ll find yourself wondering if Carneson is smuggling baby carrots up his nose. If you wish to investigate this further, listen to track 12, Seasons. It could have been the best track on the album with its gorgeous hypnotic, rhythm guitar, but Carneson whines the entire chorus.
Fortunately, Carneson can scream—gut-wrenchingly so—and it saves him from boy-band nasal notoriety. The best song on the album is a punked-up cover of The Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night, on which Carneson’s voice actually does the song justice. I’d go as far as to say it’s worth buying the album just for this song. As for the rest of the tracks, Carneson needs to grow into the musical maturity that the rest of his band has already reached.—Hila Bouzaglou
Duck and Cover
Duck and Cover (Bowline)
Do you drive a Harley Davidson, drink Jack Daniels, smoke Lucky Strike and suffer from a longing to hear ZZ Top on the radio? Then I suggest Duck and Cover’s eponymous debut album. The Pretoria-based band have been lurking around the live music scene for five years and have played at some of the largest musical festivals in South Africa.
Simplicity seems to be what the band was going for on this album. Uncomplicated and catchy guitar riffs accompany every song and severely simple lyrics—with song titles such as Whiskey and Shotgun, what do you expect?—guarantee a great headbanging session. But simplicity doesn’t make for good variety: most of the songs on the album sound exactly the same. Also watch out for the Plascon television advertisement—the one where the cat returns to its previous home—because the softest song from the album, Home, is playing in the background.—Hila Bouzaglou
The Collapse of Air (Authentic Ideas)
After five years of rocking out all over South Africa and a deadly brilliant first album, Johannesburg-based 16Stitch have delivered an engrossing and mature second album of hard-rock. The Collapse of Air‘s intensity makes one feel like one is in the middle of a marsh pit surrounded by pounding drum combinations and seething guitar riffs beating one to a pulp—a beating one will thoroughly enjoy, of course.
At times, it’s uncanny how similar lead singer Andrew Maskell sounds like Incubus’s Brandon Boyd (perhaps a slight blemish on the originality of the band, but if one is an Incubus fan there’s no problem). Although the album becomes somewhat predictable—soft song intros gush into hardcore slamming choruses—the album is proof that 16Stitch are by far one of the best things to happen to South African rock. It’s impossible to pinpoint any songs that stand out because every track brings a deep, hammering pulse that has one vibrating well after you’ve switched off your CD player (or iPod).—Hila Bouzaglou
Combining ex-members of the Transplants, Sluts for Hire and the Gurriers, this band is less punk super group and more gothic-punk pretenders. Mercy Killers’ debut is released on Hellcat Records, which seems obvious considering guitarist Craig Fairbaugh played in the Transplants with Tim Armstrong and in Lars Frederickson and the Bastards. It is obvious these guys grew up on bands such as The Damned, The Gun Club and The Clash, but the 29 minutes and 10 songs on offer do little to take punk music forward. It was all over before it began and there was not one remnant of their music stuck in my head. Avoid this album like the plague; it is boring and unoriginal.—Lloyd Gedye
Warped Tour 2006
Much like the extreme sports festival that is the Vans Warped Tour, the festival compilation features dozens of punk, emo, screamo and metalcore bands. My biggest grief with this compilation is the number of bands that seem to lack any sense of originality; however, there are a few veterans such as Helmet, The Casualties, NOFX and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts who show these young upstarts just how it is done. Then again, with 51 bands spread across two discs you can’t expect to like them all. It’s just a pity that so much of it sounds repetitive.
There is quite a bit of politics on this album, like Against Me’s diatribe against Condoleezza Rice dubbed From Her Lips to God’s Ear. For those into metalcore, Canada’s Protest the Hero is a riff-filled onslaught, while Every Time I Die’s The New Black is also worth a mention. The Los Kung Fu Monkeys provide the ska flavour, but the album highlight has to be gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, who provide a nice change of tempo with their Not a Crime, which is slightly reminiscent of The Pogues.—Lloyd Gedye
Hopelessly Devoted to You Volume 6
Various Artists (Alter-Ego)
Hopeless Records is an independent punk-rock label founded in a tiny room in Los Angeles in 1993. This is its latest compilation, aimed at introducing its new albums and bands to the uninitiated. It is a three-disc package comprising one disc of sample tracks off its latest releases, a second disc that has a selection of older catalogue tracks and a DVD of the latest videos.
I really could not get into the first disc, it seemed very middle-of-the-road punk with the bands featured playing it way too safe. One exception was Human Abstract’s Crossing the Rubicon, which sounded somewhere between System of a down, Refused and, yes, Frank Zappa, if only for a brief moment. Pity there was only one song of theirs and no videos on the DVD. Disc two was a lot better, comprising punk with a bit more venom. Against All Authority, despite their name, were a pleasant surprise, while The Queers and The Weakerthans were among my favourites. To round it off, one gets a DVD with 28 music videos—this compilation certainly delivers in the value-for-money stakes.—Lloyd Gedye
Greatest Hits (Gallo)
Named after Paul McCartney’s fake stage name, Paul Ramon, The Ramones took the spirit of the Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop and the Stooges and translated it into a blistering urban assault that spoke to the no-future punks of New York and the world over. So intimidating were these black-leather-jacket punks that Johnny Rotten did not want to go backstage to meet them during the first British tour because he believed they would beat him up. Anthems such as Blitzkrieg Bop, Beat on the Brat, I Wanna Be Sedated and The KKK Took My Baby Away are the firm base upon which punk was born. This single disc captures most of their great songs but misses many hidden album classics.—Lloyd Gedye
Under Attack (Alter-Ego)
If you cringe every time you’re at the mall and you see a 10-year-old in a Ramones T-shirt, then The Casualties are probably your kind of punk band. Like you, they are sick to death with the appropriation and corruption of punk to sell fashion and sneakers. They long for that golden era of punk when kids had something real to say. Having released seven albums in nine years, these prolific New York punk-rockers are no slouches. Under Attack does rather obviously play on the American outsider status, with overtly political sloganeering and working-class sympathy dominating. In It for Life is a tribute to American folk icon Woody Guthrie, while the title track is a tirade against the war in Iraq. If your idea of great punk is Minor Threat, Rancid or the Dead Kennedys, then this album might be just what you are looking for.—Lloyd Gedye
Dan Patlansky has come a long way since he picked up a guitar at the age of 14 and started playing along to his father’s Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd records. He is now considered, alongside Albert Frost, to be one of South Africa’s premier blues musicians, and his new album proves why. Producer Gordon Legg says in the liner notes that preserving the “raw power and passion of Dan’s live sets” was important, and he has done a marvellous job.
However, I caught Patlansky recently at a gig in Johannesburg, and the chances of capturing that audacious rip-roaring snarl of his guitar must be well-nigh impossible. Altogether there are nine Patlansky originals and two covers, one of which is a great version of the Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina hit Your Mama Don’t Dance. The album closes with a beautiful recording from New Orleans radio station WW02 where Patlansky and DJ David Torkanowsky get their groove on. It just goes to show that Patlansky has real talent for someone so young, soaking up his influences such as BB King, Albert Collins and Albert King and then churning out some of the best blues this country has ever seen.—Lloyd Gedye
Rise (Next Music)
To those of you who like to rock and be saluted, Irish band The Answer are, well, the answer to your prayers. Their debut album, Rise, is the best album I’ve heard all year. They sound like they’ve just swaggered out of 1969. If this young band were around in the 1960s they would have opened for Free or The Who; they would have headlined at Woodstock and they would have had you crying, tripping on acid and growing your hair. Each song is a nostalgic mix of blues, classic rock, poignant lyrics and screaming vocals. The first track, Under the Sky, is euphoric classic rock at its best and Memphis Water has a superb guitar solo.—Hila Bouzaglou
Up from the Catacombs: The Best of Jane’s Addiction (Gallo)
Named after housemate Jane Bainter, an ex-heroin addict, Jane’s Addiction formed in the late 1980s and dissolved in the early 1990s with only two studio albums to their credit—and the less said about the 2001 reunion and subsequent Strays album, the better. Combining elements of punk, heavy metal, funk, hard rock and progressive rock, the band had a massive influence on the American alternative music scene. Out of the 16 tracks on this best-of, 11 are taken from the studio albums Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual. Why should you buy this CD, instead of said studio albums? If the answer is for two songs from Strays and a bunch of live tracks, then the justification is not good enough. Seminal Jane’s Addiction may be; essential this best-of is not.—Lloyd Gedye
What do you get when you combine former Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell and old band members of Rage against the Machine? A rock super group called Audioslave, who created a lot of hype and expectation before their first song had even been heard. Audioslave believe in only vocals, guitar, bass guitar and drums (no keyboards or synthesisers) to create a rock experience that is true to the genre.
Chris Cornell’s vocals have become even better since joining Audioslave and many Soundgarden and Rage against the Machine fans were blown away by the band’s previous album, Out of Exile. For the more political Revelations the band hired their old Soundgarden and Rage producer Brendan O’Brien and produced a great follow-up for Out of Exile. While on their first album the band might have ridden on the coattails of their former bands, Audioslave have evolved into an entity of their own that makes any comparison obsolete. This band can do no wrong.—Yolandi Groenewald
The Paramour Sessions (Sony/BMG)
The Roach have put out another solid album; long after their commercial heyday has ended. Their fifth album, The Paramour Sessions—named after the recording location in Paramour Mansion in Los Angeles—relies on sheer power and simplicity. Having ditched their nu-metal rapcore sound for alternative rock on their third album, lovehatetragedy, the band, under Geffen Records, continue to create grungy alternative sounds in the name of hard rock.
Lead singer Jacoby Shaddix continues to deliver sharp melodic hooks in his hate-me-or-love-me lyrics. Tracks such as To Be Loved, Crash and the anti-war song No More Secrets are simple, powerful, poignant and will kick you up the ass. They even brought in a symphony for the November Rain-sounding song Roses on My Grave, though it ends up sounding a little lame. If you’re going through a break-up, buy the album just for My Heart Is a Fist—it won’t make you feel better but at least you’ll know that even rock stars get dumped.—Hila Bouzaglou
HIP-HOP AND KWAITO
Mr Brown (EMI)
Sleepy Brown, a member of Atlanta production team Organised Noize since day one, has churned out hits for groups such as TLC, Society of Soul (of which he was a member) and, of course, fellow Dungeon Family members Outkast and Goodie Mob. Brown’s first solo album, Sleepy’s Theme, a gem of unadulterated soul and funk, slipped under the radar when it was released in 1998.
His sophomore release, under Outkast member Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon label, is less avant-garde but still versatile. The imposing singer delivers a well-rounded ode to blaxploitation-era soul. Keep in mind that his father was a member of 1970s funk band Brick, so it’s fitting that his musical endeavours bear traces of that era’s knack for allegory and brash pomp. Brown can be sleazy, pimped-out and a fun guy to hit the clubs with; chances are, not all aspects of his personality will immediately appeal to you, but his elegant touch will grow on you.—Kwanele Sosibo
1 Sli (Ghetto Ruff)
Straight out of kwaito’s capital, Soweto, Slice is nothing but a hardcore up-and-comer and is set to take kwaito’s sub-genre kwai-hop to another level. 1 Sli is Slice’s debut album. Slice worked under the musical eye of experienced Kaybee of Zola, Ishmael and Skeem fame. The sound, packed into 19 tracks is totally township—he says everything he writes and sings about is based on township culture. Much of the elements on the album are not really new and one can’t help feeling as if one is listening to Mandoza, Mzambiya or even Zola. However, if granted adequate airplay, Slice could well develop into another super kwaito name. The industry is in need of new blood, style and approach, and Slice’s kwai-hop is a step in the right direction.—Monako Dibetle
Bugz in the Attic
Back in the Doghouse (Kurse)
My introduction to the nine-member production crew Bugz in the Attic came via a cover-mount mix CD from a British magazine called Breaking Point a few years ago. The friend who lent me the disc affixed the exchange with an ominous disclaimer: “This is broken, broken. Broken to the core.” That was the start of a fevered devotion to this eclectic, syncopated sound, which was an evocative, history-conscious blend of all progressive dance music.
Back in the Doghouse, the hugely anticipated debut from the West London collective, simultaneously melds the timeless sonic brilliance of the P-Funk movement, the inventive club savvy of Soul II Soul and the intelligent drum programming of an automated Tony Allen. And yet, because the team work with already iconoclastic artists, such as singers Bembe Segue and Don Ricardo—constantly pushing them to the edge of their sanity—the album, although leaning towards mass appeal, still emerges greater than the sum of its parts. Doghouse is that faultless album set to inspire epiphanies in club land.—Kwanele Sosibo
Press Play (Gallo)
Diddy aims to please with a dance album, which begs the listener to press play but instead urges one to press stop. An astute businessman, Diddy has brought in more than 30 artists and producers to work on his fifth album. The result? A compilation album filled with endless collaborations and enough personalities to attract listeners worldwide. In Testimonial, the album’s intro, Diddy gloats about “the king being back”, only to discover that his bark is lyrically worse than his bite. Looks like money can buy almost everything except rapping skills.
After Love is a smooth enjoyable jam with Keri Hilson produced by Timbaland & Janj NDZ, and has Hilson’s sexy voice over Timbaland’s unique sound. Diddy sounds like he’s featuring on a Hilson-Timbaland combo hit, but does well with his short verse. In Everything I Love, produced by Kanye West, the song brings back together Nas and Diddy after their hit Hate Me Now in 1999 and features Cee-lo of the smash hit Crazy. This brings music to your ears, despite Diddy’s shortcomings.—Haydee Bangerezako
Beenie Man’s umpteenth release in a volatile 25-year career continues his trend of pandering to the United States market. It’s a fine line to tread, one that has cost artists such as Shaggy and Shabba Ranks their Jamaican ghetto pass. Beenie Man, however, pulls off the balancing act with the virtuosity of an unaffected veteran, as on Jamaican Ting. The song, produced by hip-hop heavy hitter
Scott Storch, comes complete with the staccato Asian strings that are currently the rage in the US rap scene, further narrowing the already disappearing gap between dancehall and its younger cousin hip-hop. There is a definite shift towards coalescence in popular music, and the rise of artists like Akon (featured on the album), who weave in between multiple genres, are hastening this blur. Lyrically, Beenie is all about girls, but if nothing else, Undisputed proves that whatever direction dancehall takes, this dreadlocked Moses will probably be at the helm.—Kwanele Sosibo
Party People (Independent)
The versatile DJ Kenzhero has spinning varied sets at big throwdowns and various lounges. Party People, his monthly showcase at The Roca, is typically all over the place—in a good way. Zhero can go from mid-1990s classic hip-hop classic to feathery bossa nova and then somehow beat-mix a classic reggae riddim, all in the space of five minutes. The mix tape, named after the gig, offers punters a chance to take a piece of the party home. Zhero keeps it pretty accessible, with lots of nostalgic moments (think Jackson Five’s ABC) and surprises as he plays the original tracks to some of rap’s most famous samples. Two problems, though: sometimes the levels during the mixes are not consistent and the long, winding intro and frequent self-promotion detracts from the wizardry of the selection. Available at the parties or otherwise hit Djkenzhero.co.za.—Kwanele Sosibo
Cyann & Ben
Sweet Beliefs (Kurse)
On first listen, this new album by French quartet Cyann & Ben sounds incredibly self-indulgent and hard to get into, but give it time and it will open up in the most beautiful of ways. The fact that they pay scant regard to traditional song structures gives the album its difficult nature, but their epic, spiralling space rock will take the open listener on one hell of a transcendental journey—think Mogwai, Pink Floyd, Sigur Ro’s or Spiritualized. The album highlight is Guilty, which is pure oceanic post-rock, driven by some beautifully constructed chord changes. Let It Play is a rolling tidal wave of guitar and synth pleasure, a polished mess of sound.—Lloyd Gedye
The Only Thing I Ever Wanted (David Gresham)
Don’t ask me how to pronounce this! Psapp are a two-piece consisting of England’s Galia Durant and Germany’s Carim Classmann. Galia grew up in a house with a protest-song-collecting mother and an art-historian father, while Carim’s spent his musical youth in Cologne, recording bands like Einsturzende Neubauten and working at Can’s famous Inner Space Studio. Now based in their Kings Cross studio, the two lock themselves away from the world to create very rhythmic, bizarre soundscapes. Imagine Tom Waits, The Cure and Duke Ellington jamming on plastic musical instruments for children and you may be getting there. This may be one of the weirdest albums you will hear this year but it also is one of the most addictive.—Lloyd Gedye
The Meligrove Band
Planets Conspire (Just Music)
This Toronto foursome has put together an album that’s catchy in an offbeat, indie sense of the word. They use the piano to full effect and, although I’d be so bold as to lump them in the same loose category as The Zutons, The Meligrove Band are not as brash. But they have the same feel. The band stick to a traditional instrumental line-up—drums, bass, guitar, vocals—with the addition of said piano. Planets Conspire is their first big label release, having been signed after releasing two albums independently, and it’s a jumble of hooks, tempos and influences.
Grasshoppers in Honey brings The Beatles to mind, but with a 21st-century sophistication, and Feversleep embraces a lengthy instrumental interlude, using a trumpet to turn it into an occasion. Interesting compositions with dramatic breaks allow each instrument its moment in the spotlight over the duration of the album—and that includes the odd bout of breaking into whistle. At times Planets Conspire comes across as a live recording of an informal jam session, but damn, it’s refreshing. After so much spit-and-polish masquerading as talent in the music world, the lazy and mellow sound of Planet Conspire is the perfect antidote to the daily grind.—Kelly Fletcher
Live a Little (Just)
This is the first Pernice Brothers album I’ve listened to, but it’s actually the band’s sixth release. On the face of it, this could be one of those almost-faultless albums of breezy, summery pop, filled with hooks and lush, summery melodies to induce rhythmic finger tapping on the steering wheel and head nodding. Pleasantly nostalgic sounds bring the early Beatles and the easygoing sounds of American college rock to mind. It’s an album, which should be very easy to like. But I quickly became irritated with singer Joe Pernice’s songwriting, which I found too contrived and self-consciously pretentious. Instead of “we recoiled”, for example, he sings “we coiled backwards”. And while I salute the ambition behind the writing of “But it feels too good to stop and find a stone to ‘David’ at an ersatz giant in a party dress”, I can’t help thinking that the delete key can come in mighty handy. Boys, it’s not good to be overly reliant on a thesaurus.—Jocelyn Newmarch
Me, Myself and Rye (Kurse)
I couldn’t think of a less appropriate name for this project than the Russian Futurists. Firstly, the so-called “futurists” is actually just one Canadian guy with the not-so-Soviet name of Matthew Adam Hart. Secondly, his music, which is like a journey through vintage United States music styles, pegs him as more of an American pastist than a Russian futurist. After having overcome my relief at not having to actually listen to futuristic Russian music, I warmed to Hart’s lo-fi, unpolished but complex and layered sound. It’s very Beach Boys in their Brian-Wilson-on-acid phase but also encompasses old Motown and souls and 1980s synth-pop, and is underpinned by the kind of large, hip-hop beats of which Cut Chemist and Rae & Christian would be proud.—Daniel Friedman
The Essential Mercury Rev: Stillness Breathes (1991-2006) (Just Music)
These buffalo film-school rebels shook the indie-rock world with their classic 1998 album Deserter’s Songs, which clearly demarcated their early and later career. This single disc collects material from both periods, although it slightly favours their later albums. Early guitar-frenzied slabs of psychedelia such as Car Wash Hair and Empire State (Son House in Excelsis) stand hand in hand with orchestrated freak-outs such as Holes and Opus 40. The bonus disc contains outtakes and rarities, including some marvellous covers of songs made famous by Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and John Lennon.—Lloyd Gedye
Arular (Just Music)
First off, this is one of the most inventive electronic albums out there—once it has gotten under your skin it will never let you go. M.I.A is a Sri-Lankan immigrant that lives in London. Her father is a senior leader of the Tamil Tigers, hence her life and art is steeped in politics. This she combines with myriad global rhythms such as baile funk, hip-hop, reggaeton and dancehall to craft dance-floor killers with a conscience. The album highlight has to be Sunshowers, which is about a man being killed for hanging out with Muslims—it sounds like a glorious piece of sunshine wrapped up in some ill beats.—Lloyd Gedye
And I Feel Fine: The Best of the IRS Years: 1982-1987 (Capitol)
For a band whose last album registers somewhere near the lower end of the spectrum, as far as quality is concerned, R.E.M. have been releasing a number of compilations and DVDs in the past few years. This one captures the band’s first five years on one disc, from their debut EP Chronic Town to their fifth album, Document. Hardcore R.E.M. fans will probably have invested in a number of these early albums, but those introduced to the band through their more commercial work of the Nineties will find this a welcome addition. The beautiful Driver 8, country-fied Don’t Go Back to Rockville and the gothic Feeling Gravity’s Pull just illustrate the fact that this Athens, Georgia, four-piece write near-perfect songs.—Lloyd Gedye
Tapes ‘n Tapes
The Loon (Just Music)
Indie kids, pay attention: there is a freshly turfed gauntlet that needs to be acknowledged and it is the debut from Minneapolis band Tapes ‘n Tapes. The Loon is an 11-track whirlwind ride through the past twentysomething years of indie music, touching on Pavement, Wire and The Pixies as well as more modern references such as Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. Don’t listen to those critics who will tell you that this is an unfocused album; neatly packaged songs is what they want and The Loon is a lot more fun than that. This is no rehash; Tapes ‘n Tapes are crafting their own niche in a densely populated landscape of indie rock.—Lloyd Gedye
Casino Twilight Dogs (Just Music)
Casino Twilight Dogs kicks in with all the intensity of a Midnight Oil album, quickly establishing the reason for its growing dominance over the Australian music scene and newfound popularity around the world. It gets the pulse going and the synapses firing from the get-go, and then slows right down to reveal the introspective side of mid-tempo indie rock. Catchy hooks and strong vocals seem to be their calling card and Youth Group use it over and over in different ways to create tracks that are easy to identify from their opening bars. The cover song that closes the album is none other than Forever Young, which needs no qualifier. It was this song that vaulted Youth Group on to the worldwide music scene, even though Casino is their third full-length album. But, as often happens in the world of sound, one band’s old is another fan’s new. I’ll be scouting out Skeleton Jar (album two) and Urban and Eastern, their first full-length offering. I suggest you do the same.—Kelly Fletcher
Shine on (Gallo)
Jet are raw rock. South Africans will know the Aussie band from their song Are You Gonna Be My Girl, which features in the Golf GTI ad with the driving drummer. On their first album Jet won over their fans with a blend of Seventies-inspired rock songs, influenced by the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who and even AC/DC. Shine on, their second album, stays true to the band’s roots, though fans who were won over by their first album might have expected more progression from the retro rockers. Still, the album delivers on what the band does best and its pleasurable rock will even satisfy old “rockers” who have grown disappointed with the offerings of the new millennium. The new album does not quite deliver the same radio-friendly tunes that the first album did, thus the Melbourne act might struggle to attract new fans.—Yolandi Groenewald
Begin to Hope (Gallo)
Russian-born singer-songwriter Regina Spektor rose to fame through her third album, Soviet Kitsch, and her opening slot for New York’s hot new things The Strokes. Her music is associated with the anti-folk scene centred on New York City’s East Village and is favourably compared to Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco and Fiona Apple.
Her songs are quirky narrative pieces built around her piano work and string arrangements. Although she has received rave reviews from around the world, I must admit I was a little disappointed with this album. Having heard a few songs off Soviet Kitsch and a gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel, I was expecting great things but I barely managed to get through the album twice. Her tribute to Billie Holiday on Lady is quite beautiful and On the Radio is a really interesting song, but Spektor could not maintain my attention over the whole 50 minutes of her album.—Lloyd Gedye
Farryl Purkiss (Sheer)
This Durban boy is not going to blow anybody out of the water on first listen. Instead, Farryl Purkiss will charm his way on to the airwaves and before you know it, people around you will be absentmindedly humming his melodies. Armed with predominantly an acoustic guitar, Purkiss delivers a 14-song album for lovers of laid-back sounds. If you’re into the likes of Jose Gonzalez, Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter, Purkiss is your man on the local front, although he does have a little more of a rock sentiment about him; I’m battling to locate the oft-touted folk element, though. His lazy, hazy style is accompanied by some clever wordplay to good effect and, despite some potentially gloomy lyrics, this self-titled debut album has the feel-good factor, with some catchy hooks making light of Purkiss’s introspective side.—Kelly Fletcher
Coming Home (Island Def Jam)
Richie’s Coming Home should have been titled How Lionel Got His Groove Back. Coming Home sees Richie doing it again in style. Ever since he left the Seventies super soul group The Commodores, he has not disappointed. In this 12-track pack he brings out his musical talent and his renowned ability to swing with the winds of change, switching between soul, R&B, pop and, to my surprise, reggae. Each and every detail of Coming Home is crafted to near perfection. Highlights are I Call It Love, I Am Coming Home and Stand Down. Fundamental to the album is the musical genius of young but great producers Dallas Austin, Jermain Dupri, Raphael Saadiq and others. Thank you for the music, Lionel.—Monako Dibetle
Hil St Soul
Soulidified (Next Music)
Hil St Soul has by far proved to be one of the most capable groups to emerge from London’s underground music scene lately. Soulidified is a package of sheer musical pleasure, just the right sound to release the stresses of urban lifestyles. Hil St Soul (pronounced Hil Street Soul) are strictly about delivering soul-fusion, and without a doubt Zambian-born lead singer Hilary Mwela is a class act. She is soul music personified. Her sensuous and hypnotising vocal ability resonates exquisitely in all 12 tracks here. Her partner in the duo is producer Victor Redwood Sawyer, founder of award-winning hip-hop group Blak Twang of You So Rotten fame. Previous albums include the 2000 debut Soul Organic, followed by the highly acclaimed 2005 release Copasetik and Cool. Highlights have to be the playful Hey Boy, the assuring It’s OK and the mellow Too Good to Be True.—Monako Dibetle
These Streets (Gallo)
This young Scottish singer-songwriter has already gathered quite a following in South Africa, with the singles on his first album having received extensive radio play. Nutini sings about bad experiences with girlfriends, emotional breakups and experiences with older women (he is only 19), but his music is never corny. The album is a mixture of light rock styles with a deep soul feel to it. Some have compared Nutini to Damien Rice; others say he resembles Fleetwood Mac and even Oasis. But his fame is no accident, and his soulful voice will ensure that Nutini is no one-hit wonder. This is easy listening when you’re split between Norah Jones and your Killers CD.—Yolandi Groenewald
Once Again (Sony/BMG)
John Legend has again released an outstanding album that makes one feel as though one is privy to intimate conversations with someone special. Kanye West once again is a co-executive producer, although the album has less of the urban hip-hop sounds West is known for. Legend plays with many genres, including jazz on Maxine. Tracks such as Slow Dance and Heaven with their Motown feel take us back to a time of long-forgotten sweet romance; and the sultry and eyebrow-raising Again and Another Again are a must for those in relationships that include side dishes. Show Me and Coming Home are great for the spirit, and without Legend’s mischievous P.D.A. (We Just Don’t Care)—referring to a public display of affection—the album just wouldn’t be complete.—Vuyo Sokupa
Eish, I absolutely hate being the bearer of bad news, especially for a start-up artist, but James Morrison’s debut falls short of something wonderful. To be fair, this 21-year-old ‘s raspy, soulful voice demands some attention and his lyrics reveal a rather tortured soul trying to get himself together. No one can be blamed for attempting to compare Morrison with James Blunt, the equally whiney English lad, but Morrison’s CD offers more upbeat songs that are, sadly, accompanied by weak lyrics. Enough said.—Vuyo Sokupa
Justin Timberlake breaks from the mould again, thanks to beat master Timbaland. This album should be billed as a Timberlake and Timbaland album, as the producer gives the star a harder edge through his frenetic drum patterns with beat-box sounds. The music feels like it borrows from the Eighties, and easily moves from electro funk to hip-hop. Damn Girl, featuring will.i.am, is beautiful and jazzy, despite Timberlake’s Prince imitation. Until the End of Time, featuring the Benjamin Wright Orchestra, is Ã¼ber-sexy, smooth and very R&B, while My Love, filled with futuristic sounds by Timbaland and Timberlake’s smooth vocals, makes him sound like a super lover.—Haydee Bangerezako
Moment of Truth (Sony/BMG)
The truth is out: Winckler is a bore. Although he sounds more confident than before, his music is held back by his soft vocals while its mellowness puts one to sleep. The tracks are radio friendly, gentle, brief and almost hush-hush. His soft-rock ballads are totally unchallenging, lack originality and do not stand out in local music. This, his third album, leaves Winckler in his own cocoon, unexplored, too scared to step out of his comfort zone.—Haydee Bangerezako
Right Where You Want Me (EMI)
This is going to be playlist fodder for months. You can tell from a mile off. The faux-grunge cityscapes on the jacket sleeve; the “soulful” portrait shots of the artist; the singer himself, marvellous poster-boy stuff; all are signs that the pop factory has been hard at work, stamping out its newest model. The songs are not quite interesting enough to hunt after hearing a snippet of it on the radio, but just irritating enough to get stuck in one’s head. Watch out Shane Ward and Nick Lachey, there’s another new kid on the block. McCartney is utterly unchallenging; any appeal he has will wither as commercial radio stations force-feed audiences this goop.—Lynley Donnelly
This is a fighting comeback. Pallot is another woman artist in the “fuck everyone who says I can’t” mould. After a dodgy first attempt with Dear Frustrated Superstar, she took it upon herself to do things properly on Fires, and it has paid off. Lyrically this is a wonderful album. One of Pallot’s artistic influences is Raymond Carver—granted, it’s a little unusual for a musician, but when the word “stillicide” slips so smoothly into kick-ass tracks like Idaho, it reveals how much beautiful language can add to a song. But Pallot is so much more than words: a little Tori Amos on piano, some Sheryl Crow on guitar, a moodier, more soulful Michelle Branch on vocals. The best part, though, is that Pallot avoids sounding like any of them.—Lynley Donnelly
Another retro-serious singer in the Jamie Cullum vein, this time shunted into the spotlight by American Idol. On Red he covers “timeless” tracks—Come Fly with Me, Someone to Watch Over Me, I Only Have Eyes for You—with skill but not much charm. He also delivers a slow take on Maroon 5’s This Love and mutates a perky pop song into low-grade elevator music. Stevens can sing, but needs more musical heft to do justice to the works of Duke Ellington and the Gershwins.—Riaan Wolmarans
So Many Ways (Next Music)
Now, Tait are not a terrible band. They’ve had an agreeable single or two along the way (In My Arms was huge, remember?), and I’ve seen them pack a decent punch live on stage. However, So Many Ways somehow turned out as bland as McDonald’s apple pie. Lyrics, melodies, meaning … it all fades to grey pop-rock, devoid of spark, however well intended it might have been. This comes across more like an insecure debut album than a supposedly confident follow-up. Maybe it sounds better when performed live.—Riaan Wolmarans
Liberation Transmission (Sony/BMG)
Liberation Transmission, Lostprophets’ third album and their first album to reach number one on the British album charts, is like a lukewarm cup of tea. There are about five songs on the album that are smoking hot with some catchy lyrics and short, jerky guitar riffs that hook you well—Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast) and Everybody’s Screaming are undeniably awesome. Unfortunately for this Welsh band, the album as a whole is easily forgettable.
They adopted a more contemporary indie sound, making the album similar to so many American pop-rock bands, with far less emphasis on screaming than previous releases. Lostprophets, under British-based label Visible Noise, have ditched their origins as a hard-rock band to sell out, unapologetically. Lead singer Ian Watkins has stated that any band can create avant-garde music, but it takes real talent to make good pop music that people will actually want to listen to while staying true to oneself.—Hila Bouzaglou
Bright Idea (Universal)
Described as “the missing link between the Rolling Stones and the Scissor Sisters”, Californian band Orson’s album Bright Idea is big. The songs are over the top and hook laden with funky riffs and singalong lyrics. The only thing Orson lack is diversity, talent and originality. Every song on the album sounds the same, yet each is a potential single. There’s no denying it; the album is a great summer jam. The single No Tomorrow makes one want to go out drinking and dancing. Sure, Orson wear trademark hats to hide their age and try to pass it off as retro cool; sure, they sound exactly like the Brand New Radicals; but I like this silly, bouncy album with its quirky lyrics and fun, high-tempo pop ... even if it is totally forgettable.—Hila Bouzaglou
Just Jinjer (Sony BMG)
Sporting a respectably long-lived music career and a farcical change to the spelling of their name—apparently to avoid confusion among spelling-challenged Americans—Just Jinjer’s latest album is filled to the brim with solid, serious songwriting. Even the relatively upbeat Time of Your Life (“If you know it clap your hands”) sounds only cautiously optimistic … where is the exuberance of past hits such as Paradise in Summertime? Not to say Ard Matthews, vocalist and songwriter, isn’t skilled at what he does—his lyrics, while not particularly elaborate, combine with crafty melodies to demand one’s attention with their earnest takes on life and love. One just wishes Just Jinjer wouldn’t sound so very grown-up all the way.—Riaan Wolmarans
Speak for Yourself (Sony/BMG)
Only the dullest listener will not be hooked the moment the electronics and strings start up on Headlock, track one of this album. From funky guitar and keyboard work on Goodnight and Go to the Brooding, as well as fierce and beautiful vocals on Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap’s second solo endeavour is awesome from start to finish. This is the kind of stuff that won’t bore you, even after hours of listening; instead, each track reveals new layers of intriguing sound.
Speak for Yourself gleefully avoids being boxed into any genre, indelibly marked by the tough independence of its creator. Heap remortgaged her house and locked herself in her studio for a year to make this album and nearly every noise on this lovely thing is thanks to her artistry. It is testament to how good music can be when it comes from left field.—Lynley Donnelly
The Baldwin Brothers
The Return of the Golden Rhodes (Just)
The Baldwin Brothers are a couple of bespectacled, geeky-looking raregroove fanatics from Chicago. Their debut full-length album, The Return of the Golden Rhodes, is instantly endearing, due in no small part to the fact that it ducks current electronic trends and walks its own path. The tunes remind me of Nineties big beat, though with a lot more jazzy noodling courtesy of the Rhodes organ that is the band’s predominant element. There is a strong Herbie Hancock influence and bits of old-school hip-hop Ã la Afrika Bambaata thrown in. The album has plenty of catchy pop moments, mainly due to the presence of guest vocalists such as rock singer Mark Lanegan, Basement Jaxx vocalist Lisa Kekaula and rapper Julio Davi. It also borders on elevator muzak at times, but in a cheeky, ironic way. If they actually played this in elevators, the world would be a far funkier place.—Daniel Friedman
Re-Bop: The Savoy Remixes (David Gresham)
Let me begin my review of Re-Bop, a collection of be-bop classics remixed by hip-hop and dance producers, by saying that the Mail & Guardian‘s resident jazz specialist, Fikile Ntsikelelo-Moya, had a listen and found the whole exercise to be extremely sacrilegious. Jazz traditionalists may share his view, and feel that classics by legends such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker should be left untampered. I, however, am a child of the remix-crazy generation. I loved the recent Verve and Blue Note remix projects and thus expected to like The Savoy Remixes.
It does have its moments, particularly house pioneer King Britt’s remix of Sarah Vaughn and Dizzie Gillespie’s Lover Man and Tribe Called Quest producer Ali Shaheed Mohammed’s take on Curtis Fuller’s Five Spot After Dark. Unsurprisingly, DJ Spooky’s track is the most experimental, and perhaps the most true to the spirit of be-bop, which was once one of the most experimental music forms on the market. Which is the problem: many of these mixes are not quite as groundbreaking or exciting as the originals, and those who are new to be-bop would do better to start at the source.—Daniel Friedman
Partyhouse: The Album (Elevate)
Adequately mixed by Erica Elle for Jo’burg nightclub Partyhouse (which boldly calls itself a “legend in the making” on the cover), this collection of, well, party house strays on the wrong side of subdued until halfway through, when Sander Kleinenberg’s slinky This Is Not Miami gives it a much-needed shot in the arm. From there it’s funky sailing all the way; Roger D’Lux’s closing track, Drumlove, is another highlight. Fun, but not legendary.—Riaan Wolmarans
Sutra 2 (Elevate)
DJ Shawny B has deftly put together a sassy selection of house to suit a summery night on the dance floor. A long-winded but luscious Tom Novy mix of Roger Sanchez’s Lost starts the album, and Roger D’Lux, Patrick Turner and the Shapeshifters also feature. It might be seasonal, but it’s addictive.—Riaan Wolmarans
It’s about the vibe, says News Café, and now you can take the vibe home—14 lively house tracks, less commercial than one might have expected, from the likes of Roger Sanchez, Roger D’Lux, DJ Twist and Speedy’s cool I’m All Caught Up (mixed by D’Lux, who seems very much to be the flavour of the month). Fun with shooters or a sundowner, for sure.—Riaan Wolmarans
Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited (Universal)
It is no surprise that Whitney Houston doesn’t feature among the illustrious fans on this tribute cover album celebrating the sleazy but brilliant late Gallic singer Serge Gainsbourg. It has nothing to do with her chemicals-induced incapacitation. In the 1980s, a drunk Serge interrupted fellow guest Whitney on live French TV by announcing: “I want to fuck her.” “He said he wants to buy you flowers,” the host told Houston. “Don’t translate for me. I said I wanted to fuck her,” he shot back.
This isn’t the first album-length tribute to decadent old Serge. I Love Serge fell flat because, with the exception of Matthew Herbert, the rest of the musicians noodled too far away with their deconstructions of Serge’s songs. Most of the tracks on Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, though, are fairly close to the originals, with the big difference that they are all translations into English.
The highlight of the album is Cat Power and Karen Elson (White Stripe Jack White’s wife) doing justice to the debauched old genius’s most notorious heavy-breathing song, which he recorded in 1969 with Jane Birkin—Je t’aime moi non plus, translated here as a Sapphic sexy I Love You (Me Neither). It was, of course, banned here in South Africa too, which makes me nostalgic in a perverse way.
Some of the other artists who pull it off are Michael Stipe, Jarvis Cocker and Kid Loco, Portishead and Tricky. There are some serious duds too, which is why I found myself going back to Serge’s originals. But it wasn’t only the unshaven anti-establishment sleaze that made him a (anti-)hero. When he died on March 2 1991 of a heart attack, French President Francois Mitterrand appropriately said of him: “He was our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire ... He elevated the song to the level of art.”—Charles Leonard
Tinta Roja (Gallo)
You’d have to be a Philistine not to love this CD. Tinta Roja is a tribute to the tango composers of the 1930s and 1940s, but its beauty is timeless. Andres Calamaro’s rough voice croons these love songs with heartfelt sincerity, usually accompanied by just one or two instruments. It’s a collection of sparse arrangements, unsentimental in its approach to the most sentimental of songwriters’ subjects. Calamaro is largely unknown in South Africa, but he’s one of the iconic figures of Argentinian rock, with a career spanning two decades. The tango, Argentina’s most famous export, is far more than just a dance. It’s jazz and soul and obsession and desire, rolled together in sultry melody. Listening to this album, you’d think you were in a smoky dive in 1950s Buenos Aires, with just you and Calamaro and a couple of patrons propping up the bar. It’s got that kind of intimate, exotic feel to it. Eat your heart out, Andrea Bocelli.—Jocelyn Newmarch
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Rodrigo y Gabriela (Just)
The most remarkable feature of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s self-titled release is that this Mexican guitar duo don’t have a drummer. All the percussion—of which there’s plenty, and it’s integral to the album’s sound—is produced by the acoustic guitars. My jaw dropped open when I read that part of the liner notes, but in Latin music, percussion is often produced by dancers and guitarists rather than by a separate player. Although Rodrigo y Gabriela’s playing is often described as flamenco, this isn’t actually true. Their music blends many different styles into a fairly unique, fast-playing acoustic rhythm. In fact, they cite death metal as a major influence. A cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and one of Metallica’s Orion appear on this release. Most of the album is inspired by people they’ve met and places they’ve seen, making it an intensely personal CD. But however they got there, the result is sheer brilliance.—Jocelyn Newmarch
Good Girls Like Good Music (Bowline)
There must be lots of good girls at Gordon’s Suitcase gigs, because their music is definitely good. The quartet’s ambient jazz is relaxed and down-tempo, smooth and silky and easy on the ear. Guest artists include Greg Georgiades on oud and Piet Botha from Jack Hammer. I’m not convinced that it was necessary to contribute yet another cover of The Doors’ Riders on the Storm, but their version—the only vocal track on the otherwise instrumental CD—fits well with this eclectic, polished album. Gordon’s Suitcase have rapidly become favourites on the local jazz circuit. I suspected they count both diehard jazz devotees and lounge-music junkies among their fans. Music to sip cocktails to.—Jocelyn Newmarch
Los Lonely Boys
Until I looked this group up on Wikipedia, I was convinced they were Mexican, singing in English in pursuit of crossover success. It just goes to show that cultural stereotyping cuts both ways. Brothers Henry, Jojo and Ringo Garza are from Texas, and they’re potentially on the brink of hitting the big time. They garnered a Grammy for hit single Heaven and their debut album went multi-platinum in the United States. Sacred is the follow-up to their self-titled debut and has plenty of Tex-Mex hooks with uplifting, gutsy lyrics and that big, confident college-rock sound. Perfect road-trip material.—Jocelyn Newmarch
Diva: The Singles Collection
Given that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s former muse has a performance career spanning three decades (most of which she’d probably prefer to forget), we were probably overdue for a greatest-hits collection. But the bad news is that I think I’ve grown out of Sarah Brightman. Her voice is angelic, but too much exposure can mean it’s also shrieky. If you’re not a hardcore Webber fan, I’d pass this one up. There are two singles each from Eden, Harem and La Luna, which is not really enough to justify purchasing the entire album.—Jocelyn Newmarch
On this Bala Brothers CD one cannot claim that there is a lack of tonal variation: Phelo steals the show from his older brothers ... what a powerful voice! If you are lover of good choral training then this is the CD for you. Beauty and the Beast, featuring the outstanding Judith Sephuma; Nella Fantasi; and Caro Mio Bien will keep your finger on the repeat button. The brothers rendition of the national anthem sounds fresh with its fusion of traditional African church sounds and contemporary jazz influence, and Loyiso remakes Queen’s popular Somebody to Love (a remake of Queen’s popular song).—Vuyo Sokupa
Zambezi Sunset (Independent)
You can take the African from the bush but you can’t take the bush from the African, the derisive saying goes. It is a saying that came to mind as I listened to Zambezi Sunset, the new album by Max Wild, a German who grew up in Zimbabwe in his formative years. It is a beautiful album that Wild calls a “homage” to Zimbabwe. It has been hailed as a fusion of many jazz genres, from the slow and lazy to the upbeat and fast.
The album begins with the nine-minute title track, which mixes haunting saxophone sounds with the crisp and at times bluesy strumming of the guitar by the masterful Jesse Lewis. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head changes to a slow, lyrical track that seems to go on and on like a tropical rainstorm. But it is on Tidings of Promise, with its intermittently slow and fast beat that assails you in the soul, that the rhythm comes alive. Zambezi Sunset is a bold and signature announcement of talent and Wild is certainly a man to watch.—Percy Zvomuya
Dub from the Ghetto (Ras Records)
A totally useless research topic: Why do many fortysomething and older South Africans like dub (reggae’s stripped-down, studio-manipulated, blunted, elastic and goofed version)? I believe it has to do with the fact that we listened to a lot of our favourite music on shortwave with its now-you-hear-it, now-you-don’t atmospherics, which is not unlike dub. You don’t need to be an old toppie, though, to enjoy the sheer psychedelic delight of Hopeton Overton Brown aka Scientist’s bass-heavy, brass-laden dub. Dub from the Ghetto is 20 tracks from the late 1970s and early 1980s, showcasing Scientist’s superb skills that, as a dub prodigy, he learnt from the man who invented dub, King Tubby. The overall feeling when listening to Scientist is a heavy-lidded, sweet-smelling, lazy smiled sense of well-being.—Charles Leonard
World 2006 (Warner)
Looking at the 34 tracks of this double album, selected by BBC DJ Charlie Gillett, one realises that in the geopolitics of world music—that is, non-American-Anglo pop—Spanish-speaking and Balkan countries are the superpowers. As a fan who has overindulged on Cuban and Latin music, I put it with dread into my CD player. But the ever-brilliant Gillett’s selection has proven for the eighth consecutive year to be an exceptionally pleasant and stimulating listen—including the ones I was worried about. Gillett remains driven by what attracted him in the 1980s to world music after years of what has become rock clichés: not knowing what the singers is singing, but knowing his/her voice reaches inside you and touches you. World 2006 is an exotic journey to places such as Finland, Morocco, Japan, Congo and even Iraq (check out Aiwa’s unique rap) to wash out your tired ears. This is a soundtrack for the summer!—Charles Leonard
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